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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Mailbag: “Herr Kolbe Recording Biggs”

June 13, 2007

Dear Michael,

Thank for the wonderful compilation of selections on this program. A year or so earlier after your program about the European tours by E. Power Biggs, I had written an email posting to you (which you kindly acknowledged) about the work of recording engineer Helmut Kolbe - who in the later years did most of the engineering and even post-production editing of the many cuts required to assemble the Biggs recordings. There were many, many takes required in the later years due to the increasing severity of Biggs arthritis condition (and the mistakes he would make during the live recordings).

I recall the time I had the opportunity to speak extensively with Herr Kolbe (on the return train to Manhattan Island in the early evening along the Hudson River, with the sunset beautifully displaying itself through the train windows in early October 1991). The gathering of this visit was a pre-convention tour for the Audio Engineering Society arranged by the acoustician David L. Klepper of Churches, their sound systems and their pipe organs. This tour began in Manhattan in the morning and ended in Westchester with the return train ride to conclude the event.

I recall Herr Kolbe speaking about the recordings of the Four Antiphonal Organs at the Cathedral in Freiburg, and that he had himself constructed the large electrically connected console for playing all the organs simultaneously - specifically for those early Quadraphonic recordings.

Since you have been back there in recent years for tours, can you tell me if this single console mechanism still exists, or if it has been reconstructed and/or reconnected? In 1991 Herr Kolbe informed me that single interconnecting electrical console had been disconnected by the church authorities in Freiburg. I would love to hear that it has been reconnected and re-enabled for use by present day organists and recording engineers.

do recall Herr Kolbe stating that these particular Biggs recordings (since they were from his later years) truly required significant (analog) editing tasks by Herr Kolbe.

Thank you for your updated information concerning the status of the multi-organ performance console at the Cathedral in Freiburg,
Yours truly,

Norm Kinnaugh


Dear Norm,

Thanks for the note.  Yes, there is (still, again) a single console by which all four of the Freiburg Cathedral organs can be played simultaneously. Check out the pictures in our photo album from the trip

I believe that the original multi-console has been replaced or renewed by Caspar von Glatter-Goetz during his 2001 renovation of the main Rieger instrument (revoicing). It does look as though it has more modern controls. Keep listening.

And don’t let that celestial trumpet chorus sound quite yet!



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